A puzzle wrapped in an enigma.,
This review is from: Inversions (Mass Market Paperback)I liked this novel for its richness of plot and mystery. For anyone familiar with Banks' Culture novel, it will be obvious that the two protagonists are from the Culture.
They have a disagreement as cousins growing up together about whether pre-contact civilizations should be left alone or should be meddled with so that they find the true path out of the scarcity stage of planetary evolution. So the cousins decide to put it to the test.
The female becomes a doctor to a king and manipulates him into egalitarian beliefs while the male becomes the protector to the rival king and keeps Culture ethics out. Both have plots against them which they deal with in ways consistent with their beliefs. The doctor by using Culture technology and the protector by adopting the native ways. All this background is gleaned obliquely through childrens' stories, journals and histories written by the natives.
You soon come to realize that the doctor has robot spies and kills her enemies with knife missiles and cures patients with high tech potions. The protector wins by being a swashbuckler. But their covers are so masterfully designed that they fool the reader into doubting if they are Culture or not.
In the end, the doctor fails in her mission and goes back to the Culture, displaced out into space. The protector goes native, perhaps staying to marry one of his king's concubines.
Like other Banks novels, events happen that are puzzling until you collect and put together clues -- not always an easy task. An even more complex novel is his "Use of Weapons." I hope I do not spoil the story for you by revealing some of the plot but I feel you will be more entertained by puzzling less on "just what the hell is going on here." I probably would not have enjoyed it as much if I was not familiar with Banks' universe.